A Rajasthan Holiday, Without Palaces or Plans

“What if these two men take us into the desert, and then kill us?”, asked my husband.

I would take a chance and say that this would not feature as a regular conversation on any of our holidays, but this was a special kind of bizarre, because it was our honeymoon.

At this stage, we were both perched on two camels, being led deep into the desert by two local villagers in Rajasthan who did not speak any of the languages that we spoke, but continued to make conversation with each other, shaking their heads vigorously and in-between turning to me and asking, “you ok Madame?”. About twenty minutes ago, at the beginning of this ride into nothingness, a man, practically a stranger, had come in a jeep and taken our travel bags with a promise to meet us with them at the end of our journey. Trying not to fall from the top of the camels, we looked around and there was nothing to be seen anywhere except sun-dried desert sand. Once or twice during what seemed-like-an-hour long journey, we would see a few people far away, mostly children whose voices were carried over to us by the desert wind. “Byeeeee….”, they would say, and if we squinted hard, we could see their hands in the air, waving at us. It would have been otherwise untroublesome to hear strangers waving at us except, their “byes” were beginning to sound like the “final goodbye” to us, especially since we had no clue where we were, and what we were doing.

All this started when we got really bored of palaces in Jodhpur.

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A Few Good Men

Like most Indian couples after marriage, we were full of love, and all out of money. After settling in the new house in the new city, my long-time friend and now husband came home from work one day to announce that the perfect honeymoon destination had been found. In his hands, were two tickets to Jodhpur. We were apparently leaving in the night.

We reached Jodhpur, got onto an auto and asked the driver recommendation for hotels. It is safe to say that neither of us had travelled well enough to instinctively know not to do that ever. However, the auto driver turned out to be one of those rare species of people you could trust, and he actually recommended us a hotel that was within our budget, and not entirely a crime scene.

Taking cues from Google and ‘Jodhpur things to do’, it took us a day to check out the Mehrangarh Fort and Umaid Bhawan. They were rugged and beautiful, and they carried stories from before we were born, but I don’t think they were doing it for us. Back at the hotel, surfing for what-else-to-do-if-you-don’t-like-palaces-in-Jodhpur, we stumbled upon this page that had a passport size photo of a man called Ghemar Singh who promised to take people to his house in Hacra Dhani, where they could experience rural Rajasthan. Considering that we did not have an itinerary, and were practically ready to do anything if it meant not going back to yet another palace, this seemed like a very good plan. Ghemar told us over phone that he was in fact visiting Jodhpur that very moment, and agreed to meet us at the nearest McDonald’s. By now we were back to wondering what sort of a rural guy would want to meet at McDonald’s? We were quite sure, we were walking into a con.

Turns out, Ghemar was a quiet, unassuming guy, who spoke good English and yet looked absolutely like he could belong to a village – remember Shreyas Talpade in Welcome to Sajjanpur? He told us which bus to take and where to get down – the following day, we did exactly that. Except when we got down, it was really in the middle of nowhere. Ghemar was there with a jeep. He took our luggage, introduced us to these two men in the front who are leading the camels and engaged in incomprehensible conversation, and told us before speeding off that he will meet us outside his house soon.

That brought us to this point where we are wondering what if these two camel guys take our wallets and kill us. They don’t. Instead, after a long time in the desert, we finally get down outside three small mud huts to meet a smiling Ghemar Singh and his very excited two-year-old son.

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Each hut just had a room – one was for us to sleep in, another was where Ghemar’s wife was cooking, and the third was a toilet. There was no electricity, no network, and no running water. This holiday wasn’t turning out to be what we were expecting, but it was certainly what we were hoping for.

A Strange Kind of Freedom

Long after dinner, carefully prepared by Ghemar’s wife over crackling wood in a mud stove, with home grown bajra and vegetables, we laid on our cots, under the pristine starry sky, in the stillness of the night, with the soft chill of the desert evening nipping at our toes. With nothing else to do, we began talking to each other. We spoke like we were two friends who were meeting after a decade, catching up on life, sharing hopes and dreams, and the future that we saw with each other, wondering if we had ever before heard such quietness, witnessed such simplicity, or trusted strangers so implicitly.

I wouldn’t say that the next few days there passed by in a blur. In fact, it was just the opposite. This was the first holiday when we were intensely aware of each passing moment, as we lived it, in slow languish, uncluttered by plans and itineraries. Isn’t it strange that when everyday of our lives is stuffed with so many to-do lists, even on a vacation, we crave for the same kind of comfort, opting to build an even longer to-do lists of places to see, new food to try, souvenirs to shop or people to meet? In Hacra Dhandi, there was absolutely nothing to distract us, and it was strangely liberating.

All the Nothing You Want to Do

On our last day, in the evening, we sat down for dinner – Ghemar, his wife, and the two of us. Ghemar asked us about life in the big city, and we asked him about their lives here. His wife looked up and asked me, “What did you do today?”

I thought about our day. We had woken with the sun, chatted at leisure, looked at the deer and the peacock that strolled past us like they were not bothered, we had the most simple home cooked food, and then we sat quietly and watched the evening sun melt over the sand dunes before walking back home hand in hand. “Nothing”, I said. “We did nothing today”. “Ah,” she smiled knowingly, “that’s the best things done here”.

First published on Womens Web as A Honeymoon in Rajasthan That Took An Unusual Turn

Also published on Huffington Post as No Palaces, No Plans And In The Middle Of Nowhere: A Honeymoon In Rajasthan.

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